Hinduism

Jay Lakhani

Introduction

Introduction

traditions-small.pngHinduism is the name given to the religion that originated in India. The word Hindu is the mispronunciation of the name of an ancient river called the Sindhu. Dharma is the correct term to describe the religious enterprise of Hinduism.

Dharma (the name for Hinduism) literally means that which holds together. Simplistically this can be translated to mean: That which holds families, societies and civilisations together. This is done through righteous living. In this sense Hinduism is a system promoting ethical and moral living.

Deeper meaning of Dharma

Deeper meaning of Dharma

traditions-small.pngThe deeper meaning to the term Dharma is: to understand the laws that govern everything, and harnessing these laws for the benefit of society. This definition sits well with the way sciences are defined. The hard sciences like Physics are trying to discern and harness the laws of the physical world while the soft sciences like Sociology and Anthropology are trying to discern and harness the laws that dictate human and social behaviour. Strangely, Dharma does not invoke a God! The aim of Dharma is simply to make sense of the human condition. This approach sits well with a secular world-view.

Historicity

Historicity

traditions-small.pngThe excavations at Harappa and Mohan Joderro reveal many of the early imagery and symbolism linked to Hinduism. This Indus Valley civilisation dates back to 3000 BC. Buddha who lived in sixth century BC, was a Hindu price who adopted and took forward many ideas of Hinduism prevalent in his times. These dates suggest that the key ideas of Hinduism were developed between three to five thousand years ago.

Founders /Prophets

Founders /Prophets

traditions-small.pngMany resources on Hinduism make the mistake of stating that Hinduism has no founders or prophets. This is untrue. Hinduism has many founders, ancient as well as modern; male as well as female. The generic title given to these founders is Rishi. Rishi literally means one who has first-hand spiritual experience. Hinduism claims that the message of spirituality continues to be refreshed in all times and in all countries by ancient and modern Rishis. It is important to note that Hinduism does not demarcate when or where on when these prophets appear on the world stage. So without hesitation, a Hindu would view Christ as a person of authority, because he claims first hand spiritual experience. It is important to note that many of the Rishis of ancient and modern India are female. Hinduism places greater emphasis on the spiritual principles the prophets discovered over the prophets themselves. This is why the religion is defined as Apaurusheya – meaning principle oriented enterprise. This term got poorly translated to suggest that Hinduism has no founders!

Further information: http://www.vivekananda.btinternet.co.uk/secondaryschoolspage1.htm

Concept of God

Concept of God

traditions-small.pngThis creates a great deal of confusion for students of Hinduism. Hinduism is neither monotheist nor polytheist. Hinduism is a pluralistic tradition. There are not many Gods in Hinduism but there are many (plural) ways to think about and relate to God in Hinduism.

Pluralism
This approach offers a vast range of concepts about God (sometimes referred to as ultimate reality). Different Hindus would relate to one or more of these concepts. Hinduism does not say that any one concept is better than any other. The choice will necessarily be dependent on the individual’s own background; upbringing and temperament. The three broad concepts of God are:

  1. God as the Ultimate reality; a principle that underpins everything and everyone.
  2. God depicted as a range of super personalities and
  3. God as our essential nature.

How to convey the idea of pluralism in the classroom?
The best way to explore the concept of pluralism is to ask: Why should we think of God only as our Father in heaven? Why can’t we think of God as our Mother in heaven? This is not an issue of gender, but it is a way to show that when we try and perceive God, we invariably use our mind-sets and view God accordingly.

How to use the idea of pluralism in practice?
Hindus recognise that there are many pathways for making spiritual progress and different prophets have advocated different pathways reflecting the differing needs of the ancient and modern societies. No one religion (or pathway) can be classed as superior to any other. Insisting that one pathway is better than another goes against the teaching of pluralism.

Community cohesion
The concept of pluralism offers a natural way of encouraging community cohesion as it accepts that there are many ways for making spiritual progress. This is a very broad concept giving acceptance to variety of theistic as well as non-theistic approaches for spiritual progress. Pluralism also accepts that there can be non-religious modes for making spiritual progress. This opens up the opportunity of encouraging spiritual progress through arts, sciences, music, dance, drama, poetry or literature. This allows for natural linkages between RE and other subject areas.

Further information: http://www.vivekananda.btinternet.co.uk/secondaryschoolspage2.htm

1. God as a principle – Brahman

Brahman is a cosmic principle that underpins everything and everyone. Brahman is not a super personality but an abstract principle. The concept of Brahman is difficult to relate to which is why Hindus personify this principle in a variety (plural) of ways.

2. God as a range of personalities

  • Brahma – God in the role of creator of the universe. Brahma is shown with four heads and holding beads and scriptures. (Note the difference in spelling. Brahma is not same as Brahman which is God as a principle).
  • Vishnu- God in the role of preserver of the universe. He is shown with four arms. He incarnates on earth to protect his creation. These incarnations are called Avatars – literally meaning God descending to earth. Some of the famous avatars of Vishnu are: Ram, Krishna and Buddha.
  • Shiva – God fulfilling the role of creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe. Depicted as Nataraj (or lord of the dance) showing Shiva involved in a dance of creation, preservation and destruction.
  • Parvati – God as the female principle – as the manifesting power of the universe, called Shakti. Deliberately depicted as an ordinary woman, without divine weapons or exaggerated features like many arms.
  • Durga – Goddess in the role of destroyer of evil doers. Depicted with many arms holding divine weapons and seated on a lion or a tiger.
  • Saraswati – Goddess as the fountainhead of all knowledge, science, art and music. Shown wearing white clothes, holding scriptures, a musical instrument and a rosary.
  • Lakshmi– Goddess as the personification of wealth and beauty. Shown wearing pink or red clothes, offering gold coins to her devotees.
  • Kali – The term is derived from Kala meaning time. Time is considered to be the all-destroyer and this Goddess is shown as the personality who will bring about the end of the universe. Understandably she is shown in a fierce form with a necklace of skulls. Hindus say that if God is the creator then the only force that can destroy this creation has to be God. The Mother Goddess Kali represents that the destructive aspect of God.
  • Ganesh – The mythology that accompanies Ganesh depicts him as the very brave son of the mother Goddess Parvati; who loses his head in the process of protecting his mother and acquires an elephant head. He is God in the role of the remover of obstacles and the bringer of good luck.
  • Hanuman – In the story of the Ramayana, Ram was helped by Hanuman who is depicted as the God of strength. He is shown with a monkey face and holding a mountain or mace to depict him as the personification of strength.

Further information: http://www.vivekananda.btinternet.co.uk/secondaryschoolspage2.htm

3. God as our essential nature is defined as Atman

Discovering one’s essential nature as the spirit or Atman is the non-theistic approach in Hinduism. Building relationships with Gods and Goddesses is viewed as a ploy to achieve this end. Humanity is dignified as the most transparent manifestation of Spirit (or God). Service to humanity is therefore the most comprehensive worship of God. Dignifying and deifying humanity in this manner can be classed as spiritual humanism. This is in contrast to materialistic humanism.

Yoga: Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root - Yuj which means to join together. Rediscovering our essential nature as Atman or joining up with our true nature as the spirit is called Yoga. The journey of self-discovery ends up by discovering what conventional religions classify as God.

Key Hindu beliefs

Key Hindu beliefs

Law of Karma
traditions-small.pngThis is the law of action and its consequences. This is the law of cause and effect on personal terms. Activities we do have a habit of producing consequences (good, bad and mixed) in the short term or in the longer term, maybe even in future lives. The way they catch up in a future life is through the character we have moulded for ourselves and which comes with us in the next life. The good part to the law of karma is that it takes away a God sitting in judgement. The down side to the law of karma is that if it is not properly interpreted, it can result in indifference to the suffering of others or oneself resulting in fatalism.

Reincarnation
One of the central features of all the four Indic religions is belief in reincarnation (or rebirth). Plenty of research has been carried out on this phenomenon in recent times. Professor Ian Stevenson of University of Virginia has studied this phenomenon in detail by exploring and affirming details of past lives recalled by thousands of children. He concludes that the only theory that fits these facts most plausibly is the theory of reincarnation. http://www.childpastlives.org/

Ahimsa - sanctity of life
This principle of non-violence is central to Hindu teaching. It promotes respect for all living things encompassing not only human beings, but also the animal and plant kingdoms. This teaching arises naturally in Hindu philosophy, which claims that, as the underpinning to the whole universe is essentially the spirit, reverence cannot be restricted to the human kingdom but should be extended to the whole living kingdom.

Further information: http://www.vivekananda.btinternet.co.uk/secondaryschoolspage3.htm

Basis of Morality

Basis of Morality

traditions-small.pngNon-theistic Hinduism does not require a God to prescribe laws of morality. It does not employ rewards or punishment as methods of imposing morality. It simply asserts that the same spirit manifests as all living things, so there is a deeper level of connection and this imposes a natural moral obligation. The reason why we should not needlessly hurt others is because we are essentially hurting ourselves, and the reason why we should help others is because we are in effect just helping ourselves.

Scriptures

Scriptures

traditions-small.pngThere is a vast array of Hindu scriptures. Some, like the Vedas and Upanishads, recount the spiritual experiences of the prophets and are considered to have higher authority. Some, like the Puranas (legendary stories ) are considered to have lower authority. The scriptures that dictate the codes of conduct for society continue to evolve to reflect the changing needs of society, hence ancient law books like the Laws of Manu are no longer considered valid by most Hindus. In contrast, the Bhagavad Gita is accepted as the most authoritative scripture of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita manages to synthesise the philosophic teachings with practical applications.

Further information:
http://www.vivekananda.btinternet.co.uk/secondaryschoolspage1.htm
Bhagavad Gita

Ritual and worship

Ritual and worship

Prayer/worship
traditions-small.pngHinduism teaches that it is the heartfelt love for God is more important than formal codes of ritualistic practice. Hence the rules of worship or prayers are very flexible. Central prayer of Hindus is called the Gayatri. It translates as: “Let us meditate on the glorious effulgence of that supreme being who has created the universe; may she enlighten our hearts and direct our understanding.”

Worship

The worship ceremony is called puja or adoration. Hindus adopt a vast array of methods of worship from the very simple to the very elaborate. The reason for this variation is because it is left to the individual as to which form of worship he or she prefers. The most suitable times for worship are considered to be dusk and dawn when everything is naturally quiet. The devotee will sit in front of the image of a deity of his choice (As Hinduism is a pluralistic religion it allows the individual to worship the form of God that appeals to him). The individual is given a great deal of freedom in how he carries out the worship ceremony.

Seeing and serving God in man

Esoteric Hinduism concludes that the most comprehensive worship of God is service to mankind.

Further information: http://www.vivekananda.btinternet.co.uk/secondaryschoolspage4.htm

Worship in the Temple

The central shrine in the temple would have installed an image of the deity to which the temple is devoted. There may be images of other deities around this central shrine. Hindus go to the temple to gain darshan - catch sight of the deity. The devotee walks around the deity in a clockwise direction to pay his/her respect. At specific times during the day, an arti ceremony is performed by the temple priest. This is a welcoming ceremony. A tray is waved in a clockwise direction in front of the deity accompanied by chanting or devotional singing. The tray has five lamps to represent the five elements. The tray is then passed around the congregation where the devotees cup their hands over the lamps to gain blessings from the sacred lamp. The food or fruits that had been offered to the deity is called prashad and shared amongst the congregation

Yoga

This can also be a part of daily ritual. The word yoga is often associated with physical postures and exercises. However it has a deeper significance. It is considered to be a pathway or a means of communing with God through meditation.

Fasting

Taking on vows such as restraining oneself from eating or drinking during certain days is quite a common practice for many Hindus. Fasting can take place on particular days of the week or sometimes over a special holy month. Hindus may fast to express their devotion to a particular deity and / or for the well being of themselves and their family.

Greetings and etiquette

“Namaste” is the common Hindu greeting. It is said with folded hands and means ‘I pay reverence to God as your essential self.’

Family ties
Hindu teachings promote the idea of extended families and encourage support to all members of the extended family.

Religious Ceremonials (Samskars)

Religious Ceremonials (Samskars)

Birth
traditions-small.pngPrayers for a child are performed even before the baby is born. Prayers are also chanted at birth to welcome the child into the family. A naming ceremony, known as namakarana, is held a few days after the birth of the baby. Normally, the name given to the child reflects spiritual aspirations. A special ceremony called Upanayana is held at a later stage to initiate the child into religion. The word Upanayana literally means introducing the child to a spiritual life.

Student stage of life
Hindu youngsters enter the Brahmacharya stage when they become young adults. They are now expected to devote their time studying and acquiring skills that will help them in their later life. Gender attraction is considered the biggest distraction for young adults. Youngsters are expected to lead a disciplined lifestyle and respect adults and teachers. Respect and discipline including the discipline of a celibate lifestyle are promoted as vital tools needed to acquire education.

Marriage
Parents and friends often play a part in bringing together potential marriage partners through formal or informal introductions. During a Hindu marriage ceremony, Mantras (hymns) are recited by a priest. Part of the ceremony requires the bride and groom to circumambulate round the sacred fire called the havan while exchanging vows of marriage. They also take seven steps together called Saptapadi to symbolise their aspirations for health, wealth, progeny and life-long friendship. Married life requires the couple to lead a righteous life. Marriage allows the individual to enter a stage of life devoted to working for the good of others. The couple is committed not only to look after their children but their parents and other close relatives. The couple is also expected to contribute towards to wellbeing of the greater society.

Final (death) rites
The deceased person is usually bathed and dressed in traditional white Indian clothes. The body is then cremated. Once the soul has departed, Hindus do not think the body is significant hence they do not preserve the body but cremate it. At the time of cremation, verses from the Bhagavad Gita that emphasise the eternal nature of the Self which does not die with the body, are recited to comfort the relatives. The remains of the deceased are then placed in an urn and scattered in a holy place in India or in the UK. Close relatives observe a period of mourning for about two weeks at the end of which the family may perform a religious ceremony which can include feeding holy people. Hindus believe in the theory of reincarnation, hence death is not seen as ‘final’ but as a process of the continuing spiritual progress through transmigration of the soul.

Further information: http://www.vivekananda.btinternet.co.uk/secondaryschoolspage4.htm

Attitude towards other religions and non-religious approaches

Attitude towards other religions and non-religious approaches

  • Religious Pluralism
    The same ultimate, viewed and approached in different (plural) ways is called religious pluralism. Hinduism recognises that each one of us is very individual and the way we relate to spirituality will necessarily be different. Thus it recognises, accepts and encourages many pathways (plural) in spiritual progress. Thus it not only accepts that we have to learn to live with people of other religions, it says that we should give educated acceptance to the validity of other religions.

  • Spiritual Humanism or the divinity of mankind
    The conclusion of Hindu philosophy is called spiritual humanism. It promotes the idea that the essential nature of every human being is the spirit and not matter. This is called spiritual humanism in contrast to materialistic humanism. The dignity of mankind and reverence for life in general are the natural outcome of this philosophy.

  • Non-violence
    (Ahimsa) or reverence for life. Resolving issues in a non-violent manner is promoted as a way of life.

Diet

Diet

traditions-small.pngHindus are under instruction not to harm living things in a needless manner. For this reason some Hindus are vegetarian. Vegetables are seen as ‘less-evolved’ living things Hindus can live on, while animals are viewed as more evolved life forms not to be consumed. Some Hindus do not eat eggs or fish. The only meat Hindus will not eat is beef because they view the cow as sacred. The gentle cow is considered to be man’s best friend because it allowed mankind to settle down and become civilised, hence killing or eating a cow is considered to be a heinous act. Some Hindu sectarian movements like the Swaminarayan sampraday forbid the consumption of alcohol as well as food items like onions and garlic as they are considered to be harmful stimulants.

Symbols and other distinguishing marks

Symbols and other distinguishing marks

traditions-small.pngA red powder mark at the parting of the hair on the forehead of Hindu women indicates that the woman is married. This red powder mark is different from a bindi, which is what usually appears as a red dot on the forehead and is also worn by Hindu men and women. The bindi is now perceived more as a fashion accessory than a symbol of religious significance.

Jewellery usually has religious or cultural significance, like a woman’s bangles which are removed only on her husband’s death. Some Hindus wear a multi-coloured thread tied on to the wrist during religious ceremonies or sometimes tied on the wrist on a regular basis.

Hindu women often wrap a long stretch of cloth around themselves, called a sari, while some Hindu men frequently wear a long tunic, known as a khurta.

Further information: http://www.vivekananda.btinternet.co.uk/secondaryschoolspage1.htm

Festivals

Festivals

Diwali is regarded as the most important religious festival in the Hindu calendar. Known also as the ‘Festival of Lights’, it celebrates the beginning of a new year. As the Hindu calendar is based on the lunar system, the date of the festival is not fixed and will vary from year to year. The date for Diwali can fall between late October and mid-November. The festival celebrates the return from exile of Lord Rama, hero of the epic Ramayana.

Navaratri celebrates the idea of God as a female principle. For nine nights, devotees gather together and sing and dance around the image of the Mother Goddess. The Mother Goddess is worshipped as the ‘force that protects and guides mankind.’ Singing and dancing during these nine nights are supposed to invoke strength in devotees.

Holi is a celebration of the arrival of spring. Participants may sprinkle each other with coloured powder and water to welcome the arrival of colour on the landscape.

There are a number of other festivals celebrated by Hindus like Janamasthami celebrating the birth of Krishna or Ramnavami celebrating the birth of Lord Rama and Lord Swaminaryan.

Festivals dates

The Issue of Hereditary Caste System

The Issue of Hereditary Caste System

traditions-small.pngStreaming people for specific jobs based on their skills was the pure idea behind the concept of caste and is still an acceptable concept utilised by all modern societies. Alas, this good idea in medieval India turned into an oppressive hereditary, hierarchical caste system. Scriptures of authority like the Bhagavad Gita define a Brahmin as a person who leads a God-centred life (who is not necessarily born in a Brahmin family) (B.G 18.40-41). All modern Hindu proponents have classed the hereditary hierarchical caste system as an atrocity committed in the name of religion. In modern India, caste discrimination is classed as a criminal offence.

Hereditary caste system in the UK
In just two generations the caste system in the UK has turned into a benevolent clan system. Hindu youngsters take up career that agree with their own skills. Hierarchy between clans is not tolerated by modern Hindu youth.

Gender issues

Gender issues

traditions-small.png Equality of sexes
God as female is one of the approaches promoted in the Hindu religion. Many founders (or prophets) of the Hindu religion were women. Many portions of the scriptures of authority were compiled by women. During the medieval period, when India suffered from foreign invasions, women were confined in the home for their protection. This practice continued until recent times and gave women an inferior position in society. Today, Hindu women play an active role in almost all fields of social acitivity. Religious teachings do not hinder them from taking up any role in society.

Gender orientation
Since ancient times, Hindus have recognised homosexuals and accommodated them within society. They were classed as people of ‘Tritiya Prakriti’ meaning those belonging to the ‘third gender.’ These people were not persecuted or classed as evil. The reason for this may be because Hinduism offers an interesting insight into why some people may be attracted to their own gender. Hindus believe in the theory of reincarnation. This theory says that we as individuals continue to transmigrate from one life to another.

If for some reason a person who has been born as male for many life times is born in a female body that person continues to operate with a mental mode of a male in a female body and hence feels attracted to females rather than males. The same can happen to a person who has been born as female for many lives but is born in a male body, that person continues to be attracted to males. This explanation offers an unusual insight into the gay phenomenon. Many homosexuals complain at an early age that they are trapped in the wrong body. This offers credence to this theory. Hinduism asserts that homosexuals are as spiritual as the rest of the community.

Resources

Resources

Books

  • Hinduism for Schools Seeta Lakhani. Publisher: Vivekananda Centre London Ltd (Jan 2005) ISBN-10: 0954956702 ISBN-13: 978-0954956707 Key Stage 4 and above

  • Primary Hinduism Seeta Lakhani. Publisher: Vivekananda Centre London Ltd (Dec 2006) ISBN-10: 0954956710 ISBN-13: 978-0954956714 Key stages 1 to 3

  • Hinduism: A Beginner’s Guide Klaus K Klostermaier Publisher Oneworld Publications (30th Nov 2007) ISBN-13: 9781851685387 Suitable for all key stages

  • Complete Idiot’s guide to Hinduism Linda Johnsen Publisher: Imprint Unknown (8 Nov 2001) ISBN-10: 0028642279 ISBN-13: 978-0028642277

  • The World’s Religions Ninian Smart. Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (28 Jun 1998) Scholarly study of Hinduism ISBN-10: 0521637481 ISBN-13: 978-0521637480

  • Primary Hinduism for key stages 1 to 3

  • Hinduism for Schools for key stages 4 and above.

Further details at http://www.hinduacademy.org/resources/index.php

DVDs
Hinduism for teachers
- Interactive sessions with PGCE students at Brighton University
- Interactive session with PGCE students at St Marys

Further details at http://www.hinduacademy.org/resources/dvds.php

Useful Links
http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/religion/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/rs/